I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 8, 2009
A French woman and a Japanese man speak of the bombing of Hiroshima, 14 years after it happened:
JAPANESE MAN: The world rejoiced. And you rejoiced with them. I heard that it was a beautiful day in Paris. Do you remember?
FRENCH WOMAN: No, it wasn't a beautiful day at all. It rained all day and people mourned.
JAPANESE MAN: Is that true?
FRENCH WOMAN: It's true now. We all mourn the tragedy of Hiroshima now.
What this French Woman says, we readily accept as true. But is it true? Can it be true? Such are the ineffable questions posed by Chiori Miyagawa in her gorgeous new play I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Miyagawa considers memories and their owners in this complex, layered work. Three stories unfold simultaneously. One is the story of Marguerite Duras's screenplay for Alain Resnais's film Hiroshima Mon Amour: a French actress, visiting Japan to make a film about peace, falls in love with a Japanese man in Hiroshima. The second is the story of that man and his fiancee, in the time before he went to war, when they lived and loved in Hiroshima; she becomes one of the first victims of the atomic bomb. The third takes place in New York City, now: three young friends, two of whom are of Asian descent, watch the Resnais film together and argue about its meaning.
People who see I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour may have similar arguments, for this is a rich, challenging, sometimes difficult (though always accessible) piece. On its surface the play seems to be about appropriation of memories, in the manner that the French Woman in the dialogue quoted above suggests that the world has somehow assumed Hiroshima's mantle of sadness out of regret. The question is, does that equate to assumption of responsibility? Is it, instead, usurpation?
The play also reveals details about what happened in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, horrific and authentically awesome. This is history we only know sketchily here in America; perhaps hearing its terrible, brutal specifics will make it more real, make us more determined not to repeat it.
But underlying everything in the play, I felt a keen and sad sense of the futility of addressing a tragedy of the proportions of Hiroshima in any word or deed or art. The Japanese Man, near the end of I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour, says "What happened in Hiroshima belongs to the people of Hiroshima. They can do whatever they like with their memories." What, finally, can any of us do with such memories that won't diminish what they are?
This world premiere of Miyagawa's play is presented by her own company Crossing Jamaica Avenue in partnership with Voice & Vision, whose artistic director, Jean Wagner, has staged this production. It's largely very effectively done, but the movement segments sometimes felt heavy-handed to me. The play is performed by Joel de la Fuente, Juliana Francis-Kelly, and Sue Jean Kim, all of whom do superb work. Innovative multimedia design by Glenn Reed, Rick Martin, Hap Tivey, and Du Yun contribute much to the ethereal feel of the show.